1. After 20 years and 47,245 civilian deaths, the US leaves Afghanistan; the Taliban had secretly negotiated with cities to surrender.
In a simultaneously precipitous and long-overdue move, President Biden affirmed former President Trump’s agreement to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, but now has had to deploy thousands more to deal with the chaos that has resulted, the BBC reports. The mainstream media has mostly forgotten that the original agreement was Trump’s, so Biden is being widely blamed for the inevitable consequences of withdrawal, with Republicans literally removing sections of the Republican National Committee website that touted Trump’s plans to withdraw, as Heather Cox Richardson points out. Indeed, his administration seems not to have anticipated the swift advance of the Taliban nor to have adequately planned for the protection of civilians who assisted US troops. Some failure of intelligence meant that the US apparently did not know that direct negotiations with the Taliban were taking place on the local level over the last year and a half, according to the Washington Post, with small municipalities and provincial capitals having made agreements with the Taliban to surrender.
Like the last 20 years, the first six months of 2021 have been deadly for civilians in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission says that civilian casualties have increased by 80 per cent over the first six months of 2020, with 1677 civilians killed and 3,644 injured. The Commission says that of the total casualties, “the Taliban is responsible for 56 percent, pro-government forces are responsible for 15 percent, Daesh is responsible for seven percent, and unknown perpetrators are responsible for 22 percent.”
The AP offers a calculation of the costs to the US of a war never declared by Congress. The US poured in as much as 2 trillion dollars, all funded by debt–and lost 2,488 American armed forces personnel, 3.846 contractors; countless veterans also cope with physical and mental injuries. Canada deployed 40,000 troops over 13 years in Afghanistan, where 150 Canadians died.
The Post analyzes some of the foreign policy errors that led to this moment, while Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, speaking to Democracy Now, puts it more starkly: “There was not at that time [when the US attacked Afghanistan]—there is now not—a military solution to terrorism,” she said, “which was ostensibly the reason for the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.” The failures are decades long; in 2008, Conn Hallinan wrote in Common Dreams that “By any measure, a military “victory” in Afghanistan is simply not possible. The only viable alternative is to begin direct negotiations with the Taliban, and to draw in regional powers with a stake in the outcome: Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, China, and India.”
Speaking to Democracy Now, Bennis goes on to point out that the enormous investment of money and troops in Afghanistan did not produce an army and a government capable of or inclined to resist the Taliban; Mike Jason, a former US Army colonel writing in the Atlantic, analyzes the errors the US military made in its training missions there. More ominously, Bennis cites evidence from Human Rights Watch and elsewhere is that CIA-trained death squads in Afghanistan will continue to kill civilians.
The speed of the Taliban’s advance is clearly catastrophic for certain groups of civilians. Aid groups have been desperately trying to get visas for their allies for a month, the Washington Post reported. The Intercept vividly describes the circumstances of people trying to leave. According to US News and World Report, sixty nations have called on Afghanistan to permit foreign nationals and Afghanistanis who wish to leave to do so.
Canada also did not arrange for those who had supported its mission there to be evacuated in time, and family members in Canada are frantic. Ottawa has closed its embassy and thousands of Afghanistanis are crowded in and around the airport in Kabul, hoping for flights out, according to the Toronto Star; the AP reports that Canada is sending troops in to evacuate embassy staff. Veterans and other volunteers have been trying for weeks to get interpreters and other diplomatic staff out, lodging them temporarily in safe houses, according to the Globe and Mail. “1,200 of those they were trying to evacuate are now stuck in Kandahar,” the Globe and Mail writes, “and an additional 800 to 900 are waiting in safe houses in Kabul for evacuation by the Canadian government.” Canadian forces left Afghanistan in 2014.
Particularly at risk are women and girls in Afghanistan, whose futures may now be truncated, as Nicolas Kristof, who covered Afghanistan for the New York Times, wrote on Facebook. He is particularly concerned about female educators, and suggests that the US should “fly in military planes, grant at-risk Afghans instant visas on the tarmac (even if they don’t have passports), get them out and sort it all out later. It’s not optimal, but it will save lives. And it would be the right thing to do.” Women’s rights activists recognized by North America also told the Post that they are endangered; ““We were the ones who raised our voices for years,” one woman said of her fellow female activists. “Afghanistan is on fire. No one has a visa. No one has anything. Honestly, I am lost.” RLS
2. Staff in detention centers told to downplay COVID, per whistleblowers
According to two whistleblowers, Health and Human Services staff at the centers where asylum-seekers are imprisoned are mistreating children (see story below) and exposing those detained to COVID. NBC News quoted them as saying, “Covid was widespread among children and eventually spread to many employees. Hundreds of children contracted COVID in the overcrowded conditions. Adequate masks were not consistently provided to children, nor was their use consistently enforced.” They allege they were required to downplay the effects of COVID by the HHS public affairs office, according to NBC.
According to the AP, 19,000 children unaccompanied by family were stopped at the border in July. Children coming to the border by themselves are exempt from Title 42, the CDC regulation that requires almost everyone else–including families with children–to be immediately deported on the grounds that they could bring COVID in. However, those who make it in–only children and particularly vulnerable adults–are more likely to acquire COVID when they get here rather than to bring it in, according to the AP. The percentage of detained people with COVID has gone up from 2% to 6%, according to NPR; detention centers do not observe distancing protocols and mix infected and uninfected people together. The Brennan Center has a detailed time-line and history of COVID infections and challenges to conditions in detention centers; the Center points out that at one facility–the Farmville ICE Detention Center in Virginia–almost 75% of those held there have tested positive for COVID.
The program which allows vulnerable adults and families to enter–ordinarily those urgently in need of medical treatment–is likely to end next week, as the ACLU has decided to stop negotiating with the Biden administration over Title 42 and resume litigation. The AP quoted Neela Chakravartula, managing attorney for the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, as saying: “We are deeply disappointed that the Biden administration has abandoned its promise of fair and humane treatment for families seeking safety, leaving us no choice but to resume litigation.” RLS
3. Abysmal conditions for children in detention–still
The New York Times has been reporting on problematic conditions at the Pecos and Ft. Bliss Emergency Intake Centers (EICs) that house unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. This spring the government established a dozen EICs, almost all run by outside contractors, to house the increasing number of unaccompanied children. At this point, only four of those EICs remain in operation, including Pecos and Ft. Bliss. These emergency shelters, which house approximately 30% of the unaccompanied minors in U.S. custody, have lower standards than licensed shelters, and the contactors running EICs have limited experience running facilities for children making issues like mental health, bullying, and assault particularly problematic. Neither facility was designed to house minors. Pecos is a former oil industry labor camp; Ft. Bliss is a military site, reportedly with significant toxic pollution.
The New York Times points out both that the Pecos contract has been extended through November and may be expanded to include “tender age” children, those between six and twelve years old and that the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General has opened an investigation into conditions at Ft. Bliss. In June, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which runs the EICs, acknowledged to a judge that it lacked enough case managers to ensure that all children being held were released before the maximum legal stay of 20 days. In fact, the average stay at the moment is more than a month. RAICES, a nonprofit supporting refugee and immigrant children, is calling on Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra to shut down Pecos. One of the organization’s lawyers, Jonathan Ryan, was quoted by the New York Times as observing that conditions at Pecos “are ‘among the harshest and most restrictive of any’ shelter he has visited.” S-HP
If you want these conditions to change, urge President Biden and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to take increased, immediate action to improve conditions at Pecos and Ft. Bliss with a goal of ultimately ending the use of EICs. You can also ask your Congressmembers what they’re doing to monitor conditions at Pecos and Ft. Bliss. Contact information is here. You can also sign the RAICES petition calling for the closure of the Pecos EIC.
4. Unethical fundraising
One scam tactic that was used in political fundraising leading up to and following the 2020 election—though it’s not exclusive to this event—is the use of pre-checked boxes in emails. A solicitation email asks for a contribution; further down in the email and less visible is a pre-checked box saying the donation should be monthly or weekly, rather than-one time, or committing the contributor to an additional, larger contribution. Trump used this technique in raising funds for last year’s presidential election, which as the New York Times reports has resulted in $12.8 million in refunds during the first half of 2021 to contributors who unwillingly became monthly or weekly donors through the use of pre-checked boxes. A number of those contributors suddenly found their bank accounts emptied over a period of weeks. In fact, in 2020, U.S. courts upheld the legality of the use of such pre-checked boxes.
This spring the Federal Election Commission (FEC) unanimously recommended that Congress prohibit campaigns from prechecking boxes for recurring donations, and legislation to do so has been introduced in both the House and Senate. In the Senate that legislations is S.1786, “Rescuing Every Contributor from Unwanted Recurrences (RECUR) Act,” and it is with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. In the House that legislation, H.R.3832, goes by the less succinct title of “To amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to prohibit the solicitation and acceptance of a recurring contribution or donation in a campaign for election for Federal office by any means that does not require the contributor or donor to give affirmative consent to making the contribution or donation on a recurring basis, and for other purposes,” and it is with the House Rules and Administration Committee. S-HP
If you’d like to put a stop to this tactic, urge the Federal Election Commission to continue looking for ways to end to the use of pre-checked boxes in political fundraising; in addition, you can encourage the Senate Rules and Administration Committee to take swift, positive action on S.1786 and the House Rules and Administration Committee on HB 3832. Contact information is here.
5. Tracking Congress
If you’re the kind of citizen who tries to track Congressional actions, including reports, you know how difficult it can be to locate a specific document, depending on the agency that created it and that agency’s methods of allowing public access. (And if you’re not that kind of citizen, maybe you should consider becoming one, at least on a set of topics that are of particular importance to you.)
H.R.2485, the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act, has the potential to make your work a bit easier. As the official summary of H.R.2485 explains, “This bill requires the Government Publishing Office (GPO) to establish and maintain a publicly available online portal containing copies of all congressionally mandated reports. A federal agency must submit a congressionally mandated report and specified information about the report to the GPO between 30 and 45 days after submission of the report to either chamber or to any congressional committee or subcommittee.” Under limited and very specific circumstances a report can be withheld from the online portal, but overall H.R.2485 will make it much easier to see the kind of information Congress is requiring and/or generating. H.R.2485 is currently with the House Homeland Security Committee. S-HP
If you want to get your hands on these reports, urge swift positive action on H.R.2485 by the House Homeland Security Committee: Representative Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chair, House Homeland Security Committee, H2-176 Ford House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 226-2616. @BennieGThompson.
SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
6. Stopping the drug monopolies
Let’s take a moment to consider the use of “sham citizen petitions” and “product hopping” in enabling drug manufacturers to maintain monopolies on drugs and keep their prices high.
Citizen petitions can be filed by anyone when the Food and Drug Administration is considering approving a generic or biosimilar version of an existing drug. The point of such petitions was to allow patients to advocate for themselves regarding drug approval, and the FDA is obligated to consider and respond to every citizen position regarding a generic or biosilmilar before that drug can be approved. The “sham” comes in when drug manufacturers who hold a monopoly on a specific medication file citizen petitions with the FDA with the purpose of slowing down approval of generics and biosimilars. Anyone can file such a petition, and each petition moves back the generic’s/biosimilar’s possible approval date.
Many drug manufacturers whose monopoly rights on a drug are about to expire develop new formulations of that drug that have little or no therapeutic difference. The new formula can be patented, restarting the “monopoly clock” and preventing approval of generics or biosimilars. The Senate now has the opportunity to vote on legislation that would significantly limit sham citizen petitions and product hopping. S.1425, the Stop STALLING Act, establishes rules to prevent the filing of sham citizen petitions. S.1435, the Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act, targets the use of minor formulation changes to avoid approvals for generics/biosimilars. Both pieces of legislation have made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee, meaning that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can bring them to the floor of the Senate. S-HP
If you want to see this legislation go forward, urge the Senate Majority Leader to place S.1425 and S.1435 on the Senate calendar: Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader, 322 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-6542. @SenSchumer. You can also check to see if your Senator is a cosponsor of S.1425 and a cosponsor of S.1435, thank or nudge them as appropriate and insist that they support these pieces of legislation that would limit cynical moves preventing approval of generics/biosimilars by pharmaceutical companies. Find your Senators here.
The International Rescue Committee is working to assist refugees caught in the violence in Afghanistan.
The American Medical Association (AMA) has a useful FAQ about COVID-19 and the vaccines.
No More Deaths/No Más Muertes‘ three-part report, Left to Die, details how asylum-seekers in the desert are abandoned by the Border Patrol. Though 911 calls are routed to them, they did not respond in 63% of cases. Lee Sandusky’s piece of literary journalism, “Scenes from an Emergency Clinic in the Sonoran Desert,” eloquently describes the work No More Deaths/No Más Muertes does.
The National Lawyers Guild has a series of webinars on issues from the global repression of voting, the local suppression of voting and the detention of immigrants.
A trans hotline with both Canadian and US numbers–and with operators who speak Spanish–provides services by and for trans people. You don’t need to be in crisis to call, and if you are a friend or a family member of a trans person, you can also call to find out how to support them. If you would like to know more about the organization, see their staff bios here.
The Americans of Conscience checklist has new actions every other week that will enable you to make your voice heard quickly and clearly. In addition, they have a good news section that will help you keep going.
Among the organizations that supports kids and their families at the border is RAICES, which provides legal support. The need for their services has never been greater. You can support them here.
Al Otro Lado provides legal and humanitarian services to people in both the US and Tijuana. You can find out more about their work here.
The Minority Humanitarian Foundation supports asylum-seekers who have been released by ICE with no means of transportation or ways to contact sponsors. You can donate frequent-flyer miles to make their efforts possible.
The group Angry Tias and Abuelas provides legal advice and services to asylum-seekers at the border. You can follow their work on Facebook and see the list of volunteer opportunities they have posted.